The Strange Gods of Publishing


I have, for a while, suspected I was a plaything of the cosmos – a toy invented by the Strange Gods of Publishing for their own sick amusement.

 They cursed me with the urge to write. They even (in my humble opinion) gave me a moderate talent for both craft and storytelling, but then the bastards twisted destiny to ensure my talent would never be recognised by the rest of the world. The greater my masterpiece, the more confounding the obstacles placed in my path by the evil whimsy of the Gods.

 *     *     *

 I have been writing seriously for almost two decades, but every time I started to make progress, something came along to snatch it away from me. The following are all true stories:

 A famous literary agent (part of an international operation) rang me in great excitement about one of my unpublished novels and wanted to meet me. We had a two hour meeting in his Sydney office where I sat in a glorious daze as he raved about my work and where he was going to send it. Did I have any objection to the work being offered first in New York and London rather than Sydney or Melbourne? He was already mapping out my million-selling literary career and I left his office on Cloud 9. He was going to call me shortly for another meeting.

 A week later, impatient for glory and sick of waiting, I called his office. He was also sick. In fact, he was very sick. So sick, he never came back to work and died a few months later.

 Obviously I was sad for him, but life goes on. I consulted the list of agents and tried another – a woman this time. I sent off the first 30 pages and was amazed to receive a call from her the very next day. Once again, great excitement about my novel – she couldn’t believe how well the atmosphere had been established, the vaguely surreal sense of something weird-but-important going on between the cracks of the utterly normal. She was desperate (she said) to read the rest. Could I get it to her today? Because she was about to go into hospital for a few days and wanted to really immerse herself in my work while undergoing enforced rest.

 Hospital? I thought nervously…not again, surely!

 Anyway, I had it couriered the next morning. Then I waited.

 After a month or so, I decided to call…just to make sure she was still alive.

 “Oh…Adrian,” she said. “I never received your manuscript…could you send it again?”

 Of course I could. I resent the ms and waited. Again. This time two months had crawled past when I received the following call out of the blue:

 “Are you Adrian Deans?”


 “Are you an author?”

 “I think so,” I said, wondering what the hell this was all about.

 “I found your manuscript…in a bag in the bush, near Leura.”

 It turned out the agent had taken the ms up to her Leura retreat to read over a long weekend but had left her satchel in the car. The car was broken into and the satchel taken. I’d have loved to have seen the look on the thief’s face when he realised the only wage of his sin was my manuscript!

 Yet again, I resent the ms to her, and finally she read it – some six months after that excited phone call. And the verdict? She hated it. Not only did she hate it, she didn’t want to discuss it or even take my calls. It’s almost as though the Strange Gods of Publishing had sent goons around to warn her off!

 So bugger agents. I sent it straight to a publisher – a mid-tier, boutique literary publisher in Melbourne, and once again, I was rung in great excitement. And this time by a publisher so there was no-one extra to impress.

 Or was there?

 “I love your manuscript,” assured the publisher, “but it has to get through the publishing committee. At least one more publisher has to give it the thumbs up.”

Do I even have to tell you how this exercise panned out? Once again the Strange Gods had cruelly raised my hopes, just to dash them for their own perverted amusement.  

After all of that, you’d have to ask yourself: why do I bother? Clearly the Gods have determined that I am never to be published, so why do I put myself through the pain?

Because of the joy.

There is an exquisite pleasure to be got from writing that you can’t get from anything else. The generation of ideas; putting those ideas into a story framework; developing characters – their likes, dislikes and challenges; crafting and honing their dialogue; the drip-feed of information as the plot unfolds; and best of all: sharing their world.

When I write I am deeply immersed in the world of my creation. I can see it, smell it, taste it and touch it so profoundly that I feel I am just a medium via which the story barges its way into the world. When the muse is strong it’s like I have no control – the story pours through my fingertips into the keyboard, and sometimes I will read back over what was produced and be stunned both by the power of the story and the fact that I remember nothing of its generation. The pleasure I derive from this process defies even my ability to describe – but that’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me writing despite the fact the Strange Gods of Publishing had warned me off on several occasions – bumping off or hospitalising anyone who took an interest in my work. Next time, it could be me!

Nevertheless, I soldiered on and now the Strange Gods have taken a new tack – they’ve allowed me to be published, but they haven’t let me be very successful just yet. Oh I get fan mail – mostly from hospitals, executors and death row prisoners, so I know I am brightening up a few lives…if only briefly.

But it got me wondering – according to the figures, about one book in a thousand gets published, and only one in a thousand published books makes any serious money for its author. In other words, if you want to make a decent living out of writing, you have a one in a million chance. Even would-be rock stars and footballers have a better strike rate than that!

But plenty of people try, and none of them go into it expecting to be unsuccessful. So why, in defiance of the odds and the warnings of friends and family, are so many misguided souls inspired to brave the lonely garret and tap their lives away in pursuit of the literary dream?

For me, the answer is that I have no alternative. I couldn’t ‘not write’ any more than I could ‘not breathe’. And in all seriousness, I believe my chances of being published improved out of sight when I decided a few years ago that I didn’t care whether I had an audience or not, I was still going to write. Maybe that’s why the Gods relented? They let me be published once I decided I didn’t really care if I wasn’t.

But why do you write? I am genuinely fascinated by what drives people to go on creating with words after countless rejections.

We are a brotherhood – loudly rejoicing (but secretly resenting) whenever one of our number is raised up out of obscurity. Because it happens sometimes! It really does! The Strange Gods of Publishing from time to time will roll the million-sided dice and pluck some lucky bastard out of the mire – an overnight sensation after 20 years of toil.

Will they ever pick you? Or me?

I am more determined than ever to defeat their evil scheme and find my proper place in the great pantheon.

In the meantime, read me at your peril.


How have the Strange Gods of Publishing thwarted your dreams? Tell us, and maybe your time will come.


  1. So funny, Adrian. I didn’t know about your bad luck with agents but if I was a publisher I’d start a book of short stories about writers’ bad luck with agents!

  2. As a publisher, it too have been cursed by the gods. A few small-scale successes led me to believe it was an easy lark. How wrong I was . . .

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